Oakland's Broadway corridor poised for revival as 'dead zones' slowly get filled in

Broadway runs like a spine up and down the center of Oakland from the Jack London Square waterfront through Old Oakland, Chinatown, downtown, Uptown and neighborhoods farther north.


The street is so iconic it doesn’t even have a surname: it’s just Broadway.


So, why is it that Oakland’s grand boulevard is pocked with so many dead zones in between the hotspots and why are there are so few pedestrians, wonders architect and urban planner Morten Jensen of JRDV.


Broadway, he said, “needs to be reimagined… Really, the question is, what would the main street of the future be like?”


Change is coming in the form of thousands of new residents who will fill up more than 2,700 homes that are under construction along or near the Broadway corridor, said Mike Ghielmetti, head of Signature Development.


He remembers when the intersection of Broadway and Grand Avenue consisted of surface parking lots two decades ago. His firm bought up some of those lots in the early 2000s and then brought a condo project to the market just as the Great Recession was taking hold in 2008.


Signature Development managed to transform the area with the condo development, known as Broadway Grand, followed years later by the Hive, a mixed-use development that incorporates historic buildings with new construction filled with restaurants, offices, shops and apartments. The firm’s next project is another mixed-use endeavor featuring a West Elm-branded hotel, 70 apartments and retail space at the corner of 24th and Broadway also on a site that is currently a surface parking lot and a vacant auto repair building.


Foot traffic coming soon


For years, city planners focused their attention on drawing big box and national retailers to the city’s former Auto Row now dubbed the Broadway Valdez triangle. The city established development and zoning guidelines in 2014.


That plan spurred development of about 3,000 homes and 360,000 square feet of retail.


The idea of combining high density housing and destination retail is materializing. One such project, Hanover Co.’s seven-story, 255-unit apartment tower at 2630 Broadway, is slated for completion in 2019 with a 33,000-square-foot, small-concept Target store on the ground floor.


On another nearby site, at 295 29th St., Anton DevCo plans to start construction early next year on a 91-unit boutique apartment building.


“We were very fortunate to find a site that is an autobody repair shop,” said Rachel Green, senior development manager of Anton DevCo. “It was a building that was going to be vacant and underutilized.”


The project doesn’t include any retail, so Anton plans to install a bike repair shop and “maker space” on the ground floor to generate foot traffic.


“The city has done an amazing job of developing a framework for the Broadway Valdez area,” Green said. “Ultimately, we see that the vacant or underutilized parcels will be developed into retail, apartment, condo, and office uses.”


Lennar Multifamily Communities expects to begin welcoming residents to its 254-unit highrise at the corner of 17th Street and Broadway next summer.


Tyler Wood, development director for Lennar, said the site was attractive for its proximity to BART, Lake Merritt, jobs in City Center and other office complexes as well as the existing nightlife and retail. At the same time, he expects the influx of new homes to change Broadway for the better.


“At the end of day, our building will add a lot of foot traffic and will spur a lot of retail activity and growth,” Wood said. “It’s a matter of bringing everyone back and having an ecosystem of businesses on Broadway to activate downtown on evenings and weekends.”




During the past decade, the city’s main corridor saw an influx of dozens of restaurants and shops that were hailed as a cultural renaissance in the city. Years later, many of those are now closed including Ozumo and Picán, which both opened on the ground floor of the Broadway Grand condo building. Ghielmetti said the area became “over-retailed” just as the retail industry entered a time of uncertainty.


“There are only so many restaurants, bars and fitness facilities a neighborhood can support,” Ghielmetti said. “You need a lot of foot traffic to make it work. Oakland had a good amount of foot traffic, but you need that next generation of foot traffic.”

Some of the space Ozumo and Picán left vacant is attracting new tenants, including the next iteration of popular Brown Sugar Kitchen, a soul food restaurant previously based in West Oakland.


Oakland restaurateur Chris Pastena operates two restaurants off of Broadway in Jack London Square, Lungomare and Chop Bar, and the Mexican-themed Calavera in the Hive. He said city planners need to rethink how and where they encourage retail development.


Developers, he said, reach out to him on a regular basis offering to build out a new restaurant space for free, which he calls a bad sign that reeks of desperation. Restaurants should open where there’s demand, he said, not just a vacant space.


A better Broadway


As for the future of Broadway, Jensen said he envisions sprucing up the street with new sidewalks, landscaping, seating for pedestrians, dedicated lanes for bus rapid transit or people on bikes or scooters. Development and people would fill in the existing gaps so that the various nodes flow into each other — kind of like along Market Street in San Francisco.


He points to Latham Square Plaza at the intersection of Telegraph Avenue and Broadway where the city spent $7 million in 2016 to revitalize a public gathering area nestled between historic office buildings. The city improved the roadway, restored a historic fountain and added landscaping and lighting. The result, Jensen said, is that pedestrians, office workers and nearby residents can enjoy a welcoming space to hang out.


“For a long time, Oakland had two major job centers, City Center and Kaiser Center near Lake Merritt,” Jensen said. Now, developers are transforming the blocks in between those areas.


“That will make a huge, huge difference. A lot of empty areas are being filled in, but it’s not occupied yet,” he said. “Thousands of new office workers and thousands of new residents will start moving in the next year or two.”

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